Competition breeds excellence, and that's the vibe the Detroit Lions' linebackers room has going into the 2022 season.
Not one of the Lions' projected starting linebackers -- Derrick Barnes, Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis -- is set to earn more than $1.75 million in guaranteed money this upcoming season. And, it's led to the feel of an "open competition" among Detroit's linebackers group.
Barnes, who is entering his second season in the NFL, talked about the concept of an open competition at the position during his media session Thursday at OTAs.
"You have to do everything in your power to come out and compete, come out and show what you've learned, come out and show that you've been studying, come out and show that you've been getting in the right shape in the offseason," Barnes told reporters. "We love the competition. And, we're not just out there bumping heads. We're lifting each other up, giving each other technique ideas. Just trying to lift each other up, because at the end of the day, best man wins. But, we're trying to get each other there. If we have to play with several linebackers, that's what it's going to be, and it just comes from us competing and trying to get better each and every single day."
In his debut NFL campaign in 2021, Barnes, a fourth-round pick of the Lions (No. 113 overall), suited up for all 17 games, and started six of them. The Purdue product produced 67 total tackles, to go along with two sacks, four tackles for loss, two QB hits and two passes defensed.
He's hoping to take a leap in production in year No. 2, and key to that for Barnes will be making improvements in several areas.
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"Just technique and eyes and just knowing different coverages and route concepts, knowing where I need to have my eyes during each and every play," Barnes commented, when describing what he needs to improve upon heading into his sophomore campaign as a pro. "Communication is key. You know, last year, I was a little quiet. But, the main focus is just being vocal, being a leader, kind of taking that next step into being a vocal leader. Kind of taking that next step into not being so quiet and having confidence. That's the main key for me this year, is just having confidence and calling the defense."
The soon-to-be 23-year-old -- turns 23 on May 29 -- understands that it's important to make strides, too. As he put it Thursday, if he doesn't, he might be out of a job going into the 2023 season.
"I can be out of here, if I don't put in the right work and don't perform on the field," Barnes said. "Last year was kind of like, you're drafted, they get you in, and they know you're getting better and that you have to elevate your game a little bit throughout the whole season. And now, it's just like, you've got to come and perform, or you're not going to be here."
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn understands some tough decisions may need to be made, but having challenging roster debates is a sign the team is improving the quality of player being brought in.
“I would say this, anytime there is hard decisions about players tells you that the talent is improving on your team. And that’s what every coach wants. Every coach," Glenn said. "That’s why we’re so excited about this opportunity to coach these guys and be able to see what they do.”
Knowing that his job isn't secure has had an impact on Barnes' mindset as he prepares for the upcoming season.
"And, that's been my mindset. What can I do to get better each and every single day. What can I do to come out and show that I'm a new person this year and that I'm going to do everything right, everything right for my teammates. Not just for me, but what I can do to go out there and compete and help the team win," he expressed.